Unit essay

SocialChanges in Bolivia’s Governance

In the last one decade, Bolivia has made global headlines over thegovernment’s move to make her social and political institutionsresponsive to the Indigenous culture and the Indigenous people’sneeds. As a former Spanish colony, the country’ Indigenouspopulation that forms the majority at 65% has been sidelinedpolitically, economically and socially prior and even afterindependence. Successive governments have been dominated by elitescomprising of the minority Spanish whites who settled in the colonyand a section of a mixture race of Indigenous and white Spanish.These governments have continually marginalized the natives due to ahuge cultural distance between the whites-controlled government andthe Indigenous communities. Given the Indigenous people’s richcultural heritage, the force assimilation model applied by colonizersand successive governments has not been viable. With the coming of anew regime starting in 2006, there has been a different approachfocusing on a renegotiation of the social pact with the people.Consequently, there have been wide self-directed institutionalchanges in the country highlighted by the rise of a pluri-nationalgovernment. To capture the transformation, the paper uses the sevenarguments of world view, differentiation of culture and institutionalorder the political, cultural and economic forms of colonialism, aswell as the predominance of political social movements, thatcontributed to major social changes such as a plural-nationalconstitution, a kin-based community, social, and culturalorganization.

Cultureand Institutions

World view

The Bolivian Indigenous communities have stuck to their rich culturethat has withstood foreign influences over the years. Their culturelargely shapes their world view and expectations from the communityand individuals. The native culture was a major component ofindividual identity for the people. Their worldview is founded on theconcept of pachamama that views the earth as a living beingcalled mother earth. Mother earth is responsible for fertility andgrowth. Pachamama is also the origins of the four cosmologicalQuechua principles water, earth, moon, and the sun. Beforecolonization, the natives revered pachamama and nearly allways of life revolved around pachamama. They believed thatsacrifices were necessary to appease her failure to which peoplewould be afflicted with problems such as diseases and famine. Theyalso celebrated mother earth by ensuring that they gave back to earthfrom whatever they took from earth in the concept called vivirbein. The concept refers to the essence of life as being inharmony with the community and the environment. Aagin, the world wasseen as containing balanced male and female forces with no room forone to dominate. The ancestors also needed to be appeased as theycould cause problems to living beings from the other side of life(Bolivia Indigenous cultures Chile Precolombino).


Cultural identity is an important issue in Bolivia as it is also usedfor differentiation. For the close of 40 Indigenous tribes speakingdifferent languages, culture is used for differentiation (BoliviaIndigenous cultures). From the pre-colonial era, the local tribesrelied on culture to form a sense of identity and differentiationfrom other tribes. Among the Aymara, traditional medicine men andhealers called Yatiri were responsible for leading religiousactivities as well as healing people. However, throughout thecolonization period, the activities as the Yatiris were suppressed asthey were viewed as icons of paganism and a threat to the spread ofChristianity while their healing methods were a threat to modernmedicine. It is only recently under President Evo Morales that theYatiris as cultural icons have been allowed to perform rituals ingovernment functions as a way of cultural differentiation. Althoughthe Yatiris could reach the altered state of a person, they weredifferent from shamans and shamanism as practiced by othercommunities (Salazar).


The Indigenous people also has social and political unique to theirculture. The economy was largely based on kinship with many ruralfarming communities collaborating in labor and other forms ofcommunal work. Thus agricultural production was carried in anintegrated manner that also extended to barter trade of surplusproduction between villages. These villages were organized bykinships mainly by relatives of a common shared ancestor and acted aspolitical units that deliberated on major decisions affectingmembers. However, with colonization, these cultural institutions werethreatened. The colonizers displaced many Indigenous communities fromtheir lands to establish plantations and carry out mining activities(Crabtree and Chaplin 3).



Around 1524, Spanish explorers landing in Bolivia via Panama insearch of gold marked a new chapter for Bolivia. With the discoveryof significant gold and silver deposits in the area, the Spanishexplorers chose to settle and colonize the region alongside otherLatin America regions. The colonizers first compromised the localcommunity leaders in the areas that they settled before they devisedalternative government structures. Where the leaders opposed thesettlement of the colonizers, they were banished or killed. The newgovernment structures were largely based on the roman governmentmodel dominant in Europe.

Cultural colonialism

The settlers also sought to introduce new Spanish culture andlanguage with a view to modernize the Indigenous people. Althoughmajority of the natives resisted the foreign culture, there were somewho were assimilated into the new culture and even moved to urbancenters and acquired western education. The modernized natives wouldlater intermarry with the white settlers and their off-springs werenamed mestizos. The colonizers also introduced a new religion calledChristianity. Christianity posed a direct threat to the Indigenouspeople’s belief in pachamama. The Christian missionaries whowere largely Catholic perceived Yatiris as shamans keen onspearheading paganism and thus condemned the practice.

Economic Colonialism

Through mining, the settler established a new economic activity inthe region that destabilized the preexisting economic activities. Thenatives were forced to work in the mines and around the homesteads ofthe settlers. This created a new economy with money as a medium ofexchange introduced. The new occupations greatly disrupted theagricultural activities of the Indigenous people as they largelyrelied on subsistence farming where people grew food crops for theirown upkeep. As a result of working in the mines, the same individualswere not in a position to cultivate food crops for their sustenance.Another disruption came in the form of individually owned largeplantations farms that introduced the private land ownership system.Again, the natives were forced to provide labor in the farms(Crabtree and Chaplin 5). With the end of colonization, theIndigenous communities have struggled to reintroduce the traditionaleconomic systems after years of neglect.

The change process has been incorporating education for the masses tounderstand the place of Bolivia in the global trade. The peasantapproach in farming is discouraged and instead communal capitalismencouraged in order to allow large scale farming to enjoy economiesof scale. Other measures have involved training the masses on moderneconomic systems in order to promote economic knowledge andindependence.


The consensus-based approach centers around making compromises byconverging two different views or different areas of life. This wayof doing things has been present all along in the history of theIndigenous people of Bolivia. After independence, the nativepopulations took seriously the issue of land ownership and evendemanded titles for such lands. They recognized the threat posed byoutsiders and capitalist farmers hence called for communalcapitalism. Another example where consensus based-institutions arosewas the development of a new religion that embraced the traditionalgods and the Christian beliefs. In some communities where Mary motherof Jesus was introduced by the catholic missionaries, she would becompared to pachimama because of her purity and gender. Assuch, the country has developed a comprise-seeking way of doingthings largely embracing opposing sides to deliver a solution thatappeases all involved parties.


Change andcontinuity

The outcomes of these new ways of doing things have been instrumentalin driving social, political, cultural and economic change in Boliviaand simultaneously providing continuity of their ancestral culture.The influence of colonization and the disruption it had on thenatives of Bolivia is evidently visible. However, the forcedassimilation approach adopted by colonizers has not achieved itsdesired goals with majority Indigenous Bolivians choosing to retaintheir traditional way of life alongside some changes from thecolonizers such as religion and western education and governance(From Forced Assimilation to Self-Determination). Boliviannationalism has created increased attention to the traditional way oflife. The administration of Evo Morales has sought to drive change ina manner that recognizes the traditional worldview, political,cultural and economic systems of the ancestors. At the same time, theapproach recognizes ancient institutions may not function optimallyin modern times and hence the need to strike a balance between theold and the new. As such, the administration of Evo Morales seeks toborrow from the best of the modern world introduced to them throughcolonization and the traditional way that was followed by theirancestors.

The president has given room to the traditional world view, religionand culture in modern governance. The rotational nature leadershippracticed in the ayllus is also embraced by the constitution thatalso sets term limits for presidents. Bolivia has allowed traditionalreligious practices to thrive by engaging yatiris in national events.The yatiris have been instrumental in reinforcing traditional cultureand religion that shapes the people’s worldviews. The new worldviewof the Indigenous Bolivians recognizes their interactions with motherearth and the role of other foreign nations in influencingenvironment in line with globalization.


One of the major changes, one with far reaching implications forBolivia, is the rise of a unitary plural-nation state. As the wordsunitary and plural may suggest, there is an element of convergence oftwo opposing government systems. The descendants of theconquistadores took over the independence of the country from thecolonizers in 1825 and created a unitary state. They copied theEuropean political, social, cultural, political and anthropologicalmodels to create the republic of Bolivia. They made a huge mistake byignoring the nation-state theory that requires that each nation,defined as a grouping of people with a historical territory languageand philosophy deserve to form a state. They assumed that theIndigenous communities which had been grouped into one by thecolonizers could function as a one people. Such a situation waspossible in other European countries but not Bolivia where there wereover 40 different Indigenous communities with different philosophiesand territories. As such, the push for a plural-nation state wasmeant to correct this historical mistake and allow the differentIndigenous communities of Bolivia to form their own nations with adegree of autonomy within the larger state of Bolivia. This cameabout with the promulgation of a new constitution under thepresidency of Evo Morales that recognized Bolivia as a unitaryplural-nation state.

The nation was to be viewed as composed of different componentnations from Indigenous communities enjoying some degree of autonomybut belonging to one state. The Ayllus, which are formed by acollection of families with a shared ancestor, most commonly formedsmall local government units. These smaller units were legible fordirect transfer of funds from state governments and were alsorecognized by the central government. Therefore, indoctrinating thesesocial units of the Indigenous people into the new constitution inthe 21st century marked a major change for IndigenousBolivians. Another way that Morales brought change was titling landsinto native community lands identified as Indigenous OriginaryCampesino Territories in the new constitution. This mechanismprotected the natives from exploitations by capitalists and foreigninvestors. This strategy is largely borrowed from Canada and the USas they constitutionally recognize native lands and some communitiesenjoy autonomy.

Cultural change aswell as continuity

The president has managed to take the country form a colonialismpathway to that of Indianism. The president is slowly giving thepeasants, who have been sitting on a goldmine without enjoying it, ashare of the gold. He has managed to follow the functionalismapproach in society by making the majority of Bolivians feel valuedand respected in society. He has brought back to life the ayllussystem in a bid to give power to people. By declaring the Indigenousculture as the culture of life, he has initiated the vivir bien(living well) system which calls for people to conserve theenvironment in order to live and thrive. He has also taken the battleof environmentalism to the international level by taking part inglobal climate change talks, hosting the World People’s Conferenceon Climate Change (WPCCC) in Cochabamba in April 2010 as well asadvocating for globally binding agreements that ambitiously seek toaddress climate change to defend “mother earth” (or Pachamama).Nonetheless, this has not been without challenges as some sections ofthe Bolivian society feel threatened. Again, some global players feelthat the leftist leader is disturbing global geopolitical power playand his socialist approach is a threat to regional and global powerbalance. Consensual community organization

Consensual community organization among the Indigenous people ofBolivia featured consensus by all member assemblies and rotationalleaders. The ayllus acted as community organization to streamline thedeliberations functions by organizing assemblies. This approach alsocalled rotational leadership positions in order to distribute theburden of leadership evenly. The most basic decisions were alsosubject to approval by these assemblies, a convenient way thatensured down-top decision making. This model has been adopted by thegovernment through the recognition of ayllus as constitutionalrecognized political units. The MAS party popularized these unitsgiven that the leaders took to consulting widely with the leaders ofthe social movements that the party purposed to represent.

Social movements in Bolivia offer the different disagreeing partiesto reach consensual agreement. In the recent past, different groupshave madetier concerns heard by staging protests and demonstrations.The MAS party that brought Morales to power had also perfectedprotests and social movements. In fact, movement had managed to bringdown two governments in 2002 and 2005 before Morales took power.However, with MAS in power this was not the end of the socialmovement. In 2010, there were strikes and rallies around major citiesin the country opposing the government’s wage policies. In February2011, there were nationwide violent protests against increase in thecost of living with prices for basic commodities having increasedsharply. The national police force also staged a strike in 2012demanding better wages. From a political perspective, such socialmovements help draw the attention of the political ruling class topressing issues affecting the common people. In other cases, thesocial movement approach is critical for scaling up nationalismcauses. In fact, social movements may create more unity and bringpeople together as opposed to just


All things said, it is clear that under president Evo Morales,Bolivia is headed in the right direction. The leader has been keen inpursuing populist social policies that serve the interest of themajority and restore their culture as well as live up to the needs ofthe modern world. By having an Indigenous president, the worldview ofthe country has changed with the country’s politics and social andeconomic institutions being strengthened. Reforms in all spheres oflife including the place of Bolivia in the global and regionalpolitics are all being redefined. At the same time, the country isdemonstrating the power of the masses through social activism andsocial movements. The success of the MAS party as a social movementoffers hope that it is possible to offer better representationthrough consensual community organizations that respect the inputand viewpoints of all members of the society.


Bolivia IndigenousCultures

Bolivian InstitutionBuilding

Bolivia: PoliticalContext, Markets, and Values

Chile Precolombino.n.d. 10th Jun 2016 Beliefs and funeral rites. n.d.Web. n.d. 10th Jun 2016


Comparative SocialChange

Crabtree, John andAnn Chaplin, Bolivia: Prcesses of Change. New York: Zed Books.2014.


Every Culture.Bolivia Culture Name. n.d. Web.10th Jun 2016 &lthttp://www.everyculture.com/A-Bo/Bolivia.html&gt

Farthing, Linda andBenjamin Kohl. Evo`s Bolivia: Continuity and Change. Houston.University

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Final Essay QuestionSociology/AM IND/ 161, Spring 2016

From ForcedAssimilation to Self-Determination

Salazar, Humberto.Indigenous Spirituality. Aymara spirituality: A Challenge forChristian

Spirituality. 1999. Web. 9th Jun 2016&lthttp://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/jpc/echoes-16-08.html&gt